Fundraiser will feature traditional Puerto Rican meal, music and dancing this weekend

Courtesy photo – Devastation left in the wake of hurricane Maria that hit Puerto Rico in Sept. of 2017. Berthoud resident Betsy Haskins, Elisâbet “Eli” Reyes Pagán of Fort Collins, and Betsy’s husband, Ricardo “Ric” Haskins are planning a disaster relief trip in June 2019.

By Shelley Widhalm

The Surveyor

Sending boxes of supplies following Hurricane Maria is a good start to helping Puerto Ricans, but Berthoud couple Ricardo “Ric” and Betsy Haskins want to do more.

As members of Berthoud First United Methodist Church, the Haskins will take a trip there in June 2019 with a team of up to 30 church members, college students and community members. One of several fundraisers, Noche Jíbara, a Puerto Rican Festival, on Oct. 20, will help fund the trip and give supporters a view of Puerto Rican culture, food and entertainment.

“After this happened, we decided to go on a mission. We decided to go over there to help with the aftermath, with hurricane relief,” said Ric, mission coordinator, who was born and raised in Mexico and came to the United States when he was 18. “We wanted it to be a youth experience. We wanted to bring youth with us.”

Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico on Sept 20, 2017, causing massive devastation to the American territory, and members of the church responded by getting together supplies after learning of a personal connection of one of the members, Cecilia Jamieson. Jamieson’s cousin, Damary Pagan Cabrera, lives in Bayamòn, Puerto Rico, and in July Pagan Cabrera’s daughter, Elisâbet “Eli” Reyes Pagán, 20, moved from there to Fort Collins to study manufacturing and energy technology at Front Range Community College.

Reyes Pagán, who also will be part of the trip, plans to be a vocational teacher in electricity, something she could not study in her “iceland,” or home country, she said.

“I think it’s good that people from here, the U.S., are willing to help Puerto Rico,” Reyes Pagán said. “We love when people help us. It makes us feel good. It makes us feel important. … We make a big dinner for them. That’s the way we are. We are thankful of the things they bring us.”

In September 2017, Berthoud First United Methodist Church collected water, water filters, medical supplies, hygiene kits, food, blankets and clothing to send to Pagan Cabrera, and it arrived there on Oct. 1 for her to distribute to her community.

“Mail was the only way to connect, because there was no signal,” Reyes Pagán said. “We had no signal for three, four months and no electricity for 10 months. … We had no water until November, but it wasn’t healthy water. It was dirty, and it had to be processed by the city, and it took time.”

In November 2017 the Haskins started planning the trip but realized going during summer 2018 would be too quick to get youth involved, so they moved it to June 23-30, 2019, making an announcement at their church. So far 33 volunteers have signed up, but a few likely will not be able to go, so there are still spots to attend.

The Haskins needed to partner with another organization to be able to do the work and to identify and connect with those needing services — they learned of New York native Bert Pizarro’s informal disaster response network that does cleanup, home repair, supply coordination and other hurricane relief work.

Pizarro and his Assembly of God ministry in San Juan, Puerto Rico, will take the Haskins and other volunteers to Bayamòn and provide food, housing and transportation for a $630 fee, plus individual airfare for a total estimated cost of $1,200 to $1,400 per person, including financial support to those the group will be helping. The volunteers will be expected to pay $100 of that fee with the rest coming from fundraisers and potential grants and foundation funds.

The Haskins expect the volunteer team will be directed to work sites, likely involving home repair. The Federal Emergency Management Agency, or FEMA, addresses some of the repair work following a disaster and nonprofits are needed to fill in the gaps in home rebuilding and other efforts.

“One of the things about a trip like this is you don’t just go to help fix people’s houses,” Ric said. “It’s about developing relationships.”

The trip is expected to cost $20,000 to $25,000, and to help cover the cost the Haskins are holding their second fundraiser, Noche Jíbara, referring to the peasants or mountain farmers of Puerto Rico and a Puerto Rican tradition every November to celebrate Puerto Rico’s culture and history.

“It’s going back to the indigenous people of Puerto Rico before Spain invaded us,” Reyes Pagán said. “It’s like traveling into the past. … We want it to be more Puerto Rican as possible.”

The event will be 3-8 p.m. Oct. 20 at Berthoud First United Methodist Church, 820 Ninth St., and will include a traditional Puerto Rican meal, music and dancing, with lessons on Bomba, the traditional musical style of Puerto Rico. There also will be presentations on Puerto Rico’s history and Hurricane Maria, and the sale of Puerto Rican souvenirs.

“We’ll try to make it as authentic as we can,” said Betsy.

The cost is $10 a person or $25 for a family for tickets purchased in advance at the church. Tickets can be purchased at https://www.eventbrite.com/e/noche-jibara-a-puerto-rican-festival-tickets-50665837885 or by calling 970-532-2175.

At the door, tickets are $15 a person or $35 for a family.

Donations are also being accepted through Eventbrite, at https://www.facebook.com/ric.haskins.5 (which also has information about the event) and by mailing a check to Berthoud United Methodist Church, 820 Ninth St., Berthoud, CO  80513, with “Puerto Rico Mission” in the Memo line.

“It’s a different culture, a different country,” Ric said. “They are part of the U.S. of America. We need to help those brothers and sisters, that’s all there is to it.”

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